Thursday, 14 August 2008

Bereavement Councelling

Two or three years ago, we set up a Local Ministry Group (LMG) in our United Benefice of three parishes. This is a requirement if someone wants to become a Locally Ordained Minister.One of our members soon came forward for this and after a gruelling 2 years, she is embarking on the third and last. She has practiced as a doctor for many years, and a few years ago trained to become a Councillor, in all sorts of disciplines, including bereavement.
A group of Bereavement Councillors was set up in the Upper Coquet valley a few years ago and this is gradually extending to cover more and more of North Northumberland, right up to Berwick.
I am a member of our LMG and it was mentioned about a year ago that there would be a chance of training anyone from this Benefice, if anyone was interested. Several thought about it but they have pulled out for the time-being for various personal reasons. It seems that I am the only one left in, currently. I have been waiting since then for a chance to be trained.
On Wednesday, the existing group were having a refresher day and I was invited.
I wonder what the ordinary person thinks is meant by Bereavement Counselling. I imagined it meant listening to people releasing their feelings, after losing someone close to them. Beyond that I did not know.
After the session on Wednesday, I realise that listening is very important but there is so much more. Not just what is done to help the person, (I hate the word client), but also how to start, finish, cope yourself, etc etc. We started with a session during which they went through things they had found good - like a genuine smile - and things they had found hard. The latter part threw up all sorts of things that made me realise how difficult it could be at times. The innitial listening is the 'easy' part if you can get them to really talk about the things that matter, that is!
After coffee, we split into 3's and fortunately were able to use 3 different spaces. The leader/facilitator floated between the groups, listening to how they were getting on.
Two chairs were placed facing each other, with a third to the side for the Observer. The other two were for the talker and the listener. Having been warned not to choose anything too recent, were asked to speak about a personal bereavement and I waa asked to go first. I decided to talk about my Mother who died 15 years ago. It was surprising how real this became for me once I was launched into my account - and very emotional. I had never talked about it but do think about it sometimes and I remembered it as if it was yesterday. It did seem a little strange at first to have the Observer there, but I soon forgot about her and talked directly to the listener, who kept very still and did not interrupt until near the end (we had had the 2 minute warning!) when she asked a question. At the end the Observer made her comments and we talked about it a bit. Then we played musical chairs and I was in the observers place. The trained councellor was the listener, so I was able to watch and observe her as she listened to a very traumatic story. I had to try to distance myself from that because my job was to comment on the Listener. This was good practice, because whilst taking it all in etc, one must keep oneslf one step removed when doing the real thing. Musical chairs again and I became the Listener. I got 'good marks' for body language and attention and non-interruption and the question I asked at the end!
We gathered again in the main room and shared a few things that had come out of the excersise, before eating the pooled lunch and chatting about holidays in France and India and other things to relieve our minds after quite a gruelling morning.
After lunch we revisited the problems, available facilities etc and lots of new things came up in the discussion. By this time, I had enough confidence to ask a few questions myself and even make a comment which hit a nail on the head!
By the time we broke up and headed for home, I was shattered! However the drive through the glorious Northumbrian countryside, in the only bit of sun of the day (week?) rested my mind and I was fine by the time all the young rang me to wish me a happy birthday.
Now it is decision time. I know that I would like to train further and take up this very worth while job. But I have questions to answer for myself. Will the time that I will have to be out be unfair on G? How much stress will this put on me, especially if I get a hard case? Will I be able to cope? And most important of all - these will be real human beings I will be trying to help and am I capable of doing a good job? It would be so easy to make matters worse, with the wrong comment or approach. I must talk to the trained Councellor, but she cannot make the decision.
Also I do not know when I will be able to get further training, and time, tide and old age wait for no man!
I will keep you posted!


Anonymous said...

I think it's wonderful that you are doing this, Withy. It has to be beneficial to anyone concerned including the listener. So many people insist that they don't need counselling (including my mum) when someone close passes on but really it would help us all. Just to have someone listen, not make judgement, accept our anger/sadness/emptiness as just a human emotion that needs to be handled with care. It can take years for someone to get over a death in a family (I know), but if there were people like you and others besides of whom the bereaved could feel comfortable talking to then it would surely only lessen the pain and shorten the time of mourning.

Hope that makes sense!

Best wishes, CJ xx

Faith said...

I'm sure you will be excellent at this Withy. Do not doubt it. Much experience and kindness are on your side. When I was doing the Homestart training we took in turns to be the HS volunteer or the person who was having the HS volunteer visit them and I found it very helpful.

No-one can avoid the death of someone close, so anything anyone can do to help has to be a really good thing.

Faith x

Frances said...

You are so very wise, Withy, our birthday girl. I do not mean that girl to sound flippant, but mean to let you know what a wonderful sensitivity you do have.

It is wonderful that you may decide to continue with this counselling. I don't even know if such help is available on this side of the Pond. Don't even know if I would have availed myself of it after my dad's death, at a time that I felt very much on my own. Will never know.

Many of the management training sessions that my caring employer has offered us do make use of the the 180 degree change-over after an initial session. In general is it always a good thing to try this switch over when encountering any sort of big life decision/situation.

I would think that if anyone had the opportunity to have you help them in a time of bereavement, they would be helped.

Withy, if you'd like to continue this conversation, please do send me a message.

What a strange message I have sent you as a late birthday wish. Hoping that you know it's sent because you are a quite exceptional woman.

ChrisH said...

What a fascinating post and very pertinent to me at the moment, Withy. My goodness that sounds like hard work though - no wonder you were shattered, I can imagine that bereavement counselling is one of those skills which is much harder to practise than one would expect. Not everyone can listen - although many of us like to think we do!!.

PS Many thanks for your kind words to me which are much appreciated.

lampworkbeader said...

It sounds like you had a very rewarding day. It is a really challenging thing you are about to embark on. I know a few people who are trained counsellors (for various areas,) and they all say the same thing. They didn't realise what changes the work would bring about in their their personal lives. So proceed with care.From the little I now about you you seem like an ideal candidate. Good luck.

Fennie said...

I am full of admiration, Withy, as it isn't something I really feel I coud do at all. Younger daughter was a student counsellor and she is most excellent at listening. But anything emotional - as this must be - takes a heavy toll and I am not suprised that you felt tired at the end of it. You'd be concentrating for long time. The very best of luck to you.

Fire Byrd said...

Reading this post, makes me, a qualified therapist for the last 20 years,think that you would make a very good counsellor. You have the right mixture of non judgemental stuff going on here as well as positive regard for your fellow man. Both essential requisits of a good counsellor.

You do in time BTW learn not to take people's stuff on board, you simply don't have time for it in living your own life!

Fire Byrd said...

Realised the above sounds a bit patronising , it wasn't meant to be, I wrote the comment based on my feeling about your post and how that came across, not on your capabilities as a human being.

Withy Brook said...

Thank you Fire Bird, that is the way I took it! Nice to be supported in my decision to go on with the training by someone with your experience.

LittleBrownDog said...

You're doing something really worthwhile and important, and I can imagine you being an excellent counseller, Withy. Obviously, it will take a lot of emotional strength as well as time, but it sounds as though it's something that will enrich your life, too.

Pondside said...

This is such good work, Withy, and there is so much need. I trained back in the early 90's and did a fair amount of counselling. Now I have the use of two trained counsellors who work with some of my clients. The clients have committed horrible acts of violence, but a look at their backgrounds usually shows terrible loss. I'm very grateful for the help of these volunteers.